What is a monopod?
Monopods are one-legged camera support equipment used to stabilize camera-lens combinations to achieve better stabilization. They are also great for easing off the strain from hand holding a camera while recording. While some monopods come with small pop-out support legs, they generally aren’t designed to stand alone. The major selling point of monopods is their mobility.
Upsides of using a monopod
Here are the pros of using a monopod:
- Very mobile – with monopods, you can move around quickly while taking shots with less shakes than with handheld recording.
- Quickly adjustable – as these have only one leg, it’s quite easy to adjust height when in use, for setup, or during pack up.
- Lightweight – great for packing light on trips, and also makes it easy to move the camera around.
- Allows for creative moves – fast-moving image subjects can be quite difficult to follow with hand holding and can easily move out of sight with tripods, but with monopods, there’s the creative freedom to follow subjects depending on the photographer’s natural instincts.
- No tripping hazard – in crowded places, a one-legged device like a monopod stays within the user’s reach and doesn’t disturb people’s movement around.
Downsides of using a monopod
Here are the possible cons to using a monopod:
- Doesn’t completely lock down – most monopods can’t stand on their own with just one leg, and even those with pop-out supports are susceptible to falling with any forceful shake. Monopods can’t be operated remotely.
- Can be tiring with long use – just like hand holding a camera causes weary arms over time, the same way a monopod can wear out the user eventually as it can’t be set alone to walk away.
What is a tripod?
A tripod is an instrument with three legs, a center column, and a tripod head which supports and stabilizes cameras. Camera tripods are often distinct from other types of tripods, like surveyor tripods, in their sleek design, lightweight design, and adjustability.
Types of camera tripods
Camera tripods are great for stability but often come in different builds for various uses. Here are some of the common types of camera tripods:
- Full size tripods
Full size tripods come with three long legs that often extend to a sizable height. They also have adjustable clips to modify the height of each leg, which allows them to be balanced on any ground level.
- Mini tripods
These are smaller versions of a full size tripod. Mini tripods are more compact, have shorter height, and are more sturdy. They are designed for close-up use like self-recording and vlogging.
- Gorilla tripods
A gorilla tripod is a form of mini tripod that comes with ball-joint legs. This makes the legs much more adjustable and more dynamic in setup. You’d mostly find this type of camera tripod useful while on the move. e.g. in cars.
- Combo tripods
Combo tripods are tripods that have one or two detachable legs. This means they can double as a tripod and a monopod.
Upsides of using a tripod
Here are the pros of using a camera tripod:
- Completely locked down – extra movement or shakes are not a worry with tripods locked in the proper position.
- Better camera movements – tripods allow the camera operator to get steady movements in the pan, tilt, and roll directions using the tripod head handle.
- Set camera and walk away – for camera use involving automatic camera functioning or remote control, tripods are indispensable.
- Attach other accessories – using a tripod allows you to hang other camera accessories such as power source, camera bag, extra lens, etc.
Downsides of using a tripod
The following are setbacks of using a tripod for cameras:
- Slower to set up and tear down – with three legs, it takes more effort and time to set up a tripod compared to a monopod.
- Harder to move – mobility isn’t a strong suit for tripods, they are built for stability.
- Leveling on uneven floors can be tedious – on uneven or sloped grounds, the three legs of a tripod need to be set at different lengths which can be tiring to figure out.
- Bulky design – tripods often come in heavy builds which makes them less handy.
Why should you use a monopod or tripod?
Having either a monopod or a tripod or maybe both is quite needful as a professional videographer or enthusiast. At the basic level, both camera accessories provide substantial stabilization. Apart from that, they serve to take the weight of the camera and lens off the cameraman – no need for handheld recording or using a bulky chest strap.
With monopods and tripods, there’s the option to use additional stabilization gears for even more smooth footage. Common accessories that can be attached include gimbals and fluid tripod heads (1).
Tripods and monopods that come with a quick-release plate are best for use with other camera accessories. As this allows for fast mounting and detaching of the camera on the tripod or monopod.
Monopod vs. tripod comparison: What to consider
The main difference between the tripod vs. monopod comparison is in the features. Here are the top talking points to differentiate the two sets of instruments:
Tripods generally weigh more than monopods owing to the more bulky structure – more legs usually means more weight. The weightier the support equipment is, the more packing weight to expect. Cameras and lenses already have their weight, so in choosing a tripod or monopod, it only makes sense to be wary of choosing products that are heavy.
Moving around is another factor to consider in making a monopod vs. tripod decision. For videoshoots involving lots of movement, it’s better to opt for a mobile stability accessory – monopods. On the other hand, if the shoot requires zero movement, a stable tripod is a better option. Overall, monopods are more mobile than tripods.
When it comes to staying solid and holding the camera setup in place for long, tripods take the upper hand without doubt. What tripods are deficient in mobility, they make up for in stability. Monopods on the other hand are all mobility and lacking in stability.
- Ease of setup
Tripods have a more complicated setup than monopods. The three legs need to be extended separately, then the main column and the tripod head follow. As opposed to the single column stretch of monopods.
- Payload strength
With a more sturdy design, tripods again win the payload strength point in the tripod vs. monopod comparison. Tripods often come with bulkier heads and can carry more camera-lens weight than monopods.
With the multiple extensions on a tripod, there are more setup options with a tripod than on a monopod. On a floor that’s not level, the legs of a tripod can be adjusted for a stable setup. Adjustability with a monopod is largely limited to height and the monopod head.
Even though prices of monopods and tripods are largely determined by quality of material, payload strength, and brand, tripods tend to be higher priced than monopods.
When should you use monopod vs. tripod?
Now, let’s go over specific situations in photography and videography to put our tripod vs. monopod arguments in proper perspective
Here are common photography scenarios and a monopod vs. tripod comparison:
Landscape photography (2) often needs proper stabilization to pull off something stellar e.g. blurring of a waterfall or the cloud. Preferably done with small aperture, an increased depth of field, and a delayed shutter speed, in order to get all the details both in the foreground and background. A tripod would deliver best results in this case. Although, a monopod won’t perform badly as well.
Sports photography is best done with a long lens with longer focal length that zooms in nice on the subjects. This often results in magnification of shakes and hand movements except there’s good camera stabilization. However, with the crowded situation and the need to stay mobile, a monopod is the best option for sports recording.
Shooting images in the wild comes from two standpoints; recording in wait for action and actively trailing action. For following wildlife action closely, monopods are the answer. While for the latter, waiting for action is a tripod game.
Getting clear shots in a very low-light scene, such as night-time photography or astrophotography, needs significantly high ISO and seconds-long exposure. This can only work with a very stable setup provided by tripods.
Time lapse recording usually spans for a long period and also uses long exposure. In essence, tripods are best for time lapse photography.
Taking portrait images requires great balance and positioning. Lots of photographers prefer tripods for the stability, while others prefer monopods for the creative flair it allows.
Tripods vs. monopods: Which one should you buy?
Making a buying decision doesn’t have to be a one-shoe-fits-all approach all the time. Opting to buy either a monopod or a tripod doesn’t mean there won’t be a need for the other accessory type. What’s most notable is that both options offer good camera stabilization.
Camera owners can consider the type of photography they do to make a decision. Though, with combo tripods, users can get both monopod and tripod in one. These usually cost more than individual tripods but cost less than having to buy both accessory types.
Yes, a convertible tripod can be used as a monopod usually by detaching one or two of the tripod legs.
Stabilization during filmmaking often requires more than a tripod or monopod. However, both gears can be used; monopods for creative freedom, and tripods for best stability.
The monopod vs. tripod comparison is one worth considering by all photography professionals and enthusiasts. Both types of device work to provide support for cameras and allow for adequate camera control. However, monopods thrive better in mobility while tripods take the edge with stability. For a taste of both worlds, a combo tripod that converts into a monopod works.
What has been your experience with tripods and monopods? Which of the stabilization gear types do you prefer shooting with? Let’s get talking in the comments below.
- John Robertson. (n.d.). Heads up: tripod heads and which to choose. Manfrotto global. Retrieved from https://www.manfrotto.com/global/buying-guide/heads-tripod-heads-choose/
- Nashville Film Institute. (n.d.). Landscape Photography – Everything You Need to Know. Retrieved from https://www.nfi.edu/landscape-photography/